I’ve notified a phenomenon within myself as I rapidly head towards the age of 40. I’m becoming more unashamedly me. I am far more tolerant of leaning into my personality quirks, likes, and dislikes now than I was when I was in my 20s. Back then, I was more concerned about what everyone else thought of me. I’d “moderate” myself. I wouldn’t get too outspoken in a way that might cause others discomfort or make them think ill of me.
But I’m arrived at a point in my life where frankly, in a basic sense, I just don’t give a damn. Sure, I still wish to be well-regarded by others, and it still hurts when I know somebody’s upset with me. But I’ve grown tired of the constant evaluation of what I should or should not believe in or care about. Self-reflection may be good for the soul, but not when the issue is forced by a constant barrage of the opinions of others.
I feel like this sharpening outline of self is often what happens to people as they grow older and more mature. I can feel my personality calcifying, getting more set in stone and less pliable. The likelihood that my interests, hobbies, desires, and takes on current affairs will change radically or quickly is decreasing with each passing day.
I can accept that. It feels good to walk on the solid ground of “middle age” and move away from the instability and doubts of “youth” and all that entails. But I’m also concerned that this means I’m becoming exactly the kind of person I despised when I was young: a stubborn, hard-headed, cynical, close-minded know-it-all.
I don’t want to be that person. I do want to keep learning, growing, and changing. I want to keep an open mind, a willingness to give life a fresh start.
Is there a way to do that without loosing sight of what makes me me?
Is there a way to remain firm in my essential convictions while also welcoming the engagement with counterarguments and new information?
Is it possible to have a marriage of old age’s wisdom and the wide-eyed innocence of youth?
As the old French proverb goes:
Si jeunesse savait; si vieillesse pouvait!
(If only youth had the knowledge; if old age had the strength!)
—Henri Estienne II
So what’s the answer? Come back and ask me in another decade or so. I’ll likely retort:
“What! That young whippersnapper! He thought he was already getting old in his late 30s. Ah, the foolishness of youth…”